Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Too Much Joan


Who is this in the mirror? Whoever she is, I am sick of her and she’s making me nervous.

After all the talk about looking good and feeling glam, I am having doubts. My face seems to be swelling up so I look more like Ed Balls and Matt Lucas than La Collins, and despite eating acres of broccoli I seem to be pasty with lines under my eyes, like a rueful ghost.

Realise that I am upset because my eyebrows have suddenly gone, and with them my eyebrow pencil. I had a soft old, grey stick, but the lead is now finished. None of my other pencils work well, and if you go out with an eyebrow colour too strong, blotchy or wiggly you look absurd.

Also realise that I have slowed down. My legs ache and my feet feel as if I am wearing wooden boots, so I just can’t progress up the pavement at the speed I used to. I must accept this I suppose. The idea of having a hernia also makes me feel like an old crock, caput really. I suppose I should have accepted this weakness as part of the new person that I am, but I am miles away from doing that.

Tuesday 14th Young Father Steve came from St Michael’s in Chiswick, bringing communion. Apparently it’s “Holy Cross,” day.

The first time I have ever sent out for it. I wasn’t sure that he was bringing it, I thought it might just be a friendly chat, but he came on his bike with a large black holdall and started unpacking gold candlesticks, a cross and other shiny objects, looking rather like a burglar.

He set up the altar on my small coffee table, putting down a crisp white cloth, then laying out the objects including a shining silver pyx in the centre. It all looked surprisingly beautiful.

He took the service from the Roman Missal. The reading was from Numbers, 21:4-9 about Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt only for them to be stranded in the desert where they were bitten by “fiery serpents.” He takes a serpent and ties it onto a stick, not an easy thing to do at the best of times, and holds it up before them, prefiguring the idea of the cross; an object of terror which becomes a symbol of hope. I did enjoy the service and felt if not encouraged, calmer. Not so alone with the idea that I might die soon. It’s probably the most satisfying take-away I have ever had.

I was able to give him a piece of cake I’d made with fresh blackberries, and sherry, well I had that, he had tea. I always try to get vicars to drink sherry and they just never will as if taking part in the cliché will do them serious damage.

Friday 17th.

Have to go to the Renaissance Hotel, High Holborn to interview Amanda Evans, a former tennis professional about the death of her father. He died from Pulmonary Fibrosis. The Daily Telegraph want a piece about it for their health pages.

This is a bit of a task, not because I can’t do the interview or write it – but because I can no longer get my eyebrows right. I haven’t found a good replacement pencil and I think they look a bit ropey.

At the bus stop, sitting there in my turban, makeup and shiny black mac, a woman walking past gives me a look – I cannot interpret it, it could be, “get you,” or you look ridiculous, or it could have meant that she thought I looked too good for Acton Vale, W3, which isn’t difficult. I can’t interpret it but it’s like a knife cutting me.

Arrive early and look for lunch. There are a mass of tedious chain cafes, but find a Vietnamese café. It’s crowded and when I have finished my rice and aubergine realise that I have to go to the back of a very long queue to get some tea. Mention this to a young girl who has come to my table. She doesn’t reply, just stares at me. What must she see? Some ghastly looking, mad old bat?

Scuttle off and see an Italian greasy spoon up a side street. They are usually quite cosy places although their cakes look strangely artificial. They could well be as no one ever seems to eat them.

Not many people in, and as I stand at the counter the Italian serving comes up, but ignores me and speaks to some young girls who have come in behind me. I must look so bad he can’t bear to look at me at all. I am invisible. Decided to have the tea outside at one of their tables on the pavement. Realise I am surrounded by smokers and I am terrified of breathing in carcinogens these days. The tea doesn’t come, decided to give up and walk away. Half expect to be called back to pay for something.

At the Renaissance, I am treated at least as graciously as if I were Joan Collins, or the late Princess Margaret. Sink into the soft cushions on a large sofa as young men fuss around me and bring me a menu and tea. When I had money I stayed in places like this and rarely saw the other stuff. Money might not bring happiness but it brings you less bruising.

Amanda arrives and the interview goes very well, but all the way home I can only think about that Italian and how rude he was, and wonder, why? Why?

During the week the Pope arrived. This all started out very badly with virulent atheists and pompous lefties prating on at great length. The whole things seemed mired in the disgrace of the paedophile scandal, but as the week went on things changed around and somehow a festive atmosphere emerged. The sight of his little red shoes boosted me. I suppose a change is as good as a rest and he doesn’t come on a state visit that often, about once every four hundred years.

I was encouraged to face my fears too by some of the words of John Henry Newman. I also discovered that Newman largely invented the Anglo-Catholic church, he is responsible for beautiful young vicars cycling about with bags full of divine objects.

Bought a book on Anglicanism, which is suddenly more important and real to me. It’s becoming a bit fashionable again too - perhaps because it is, as Elizabeth I put it, “mere English,” something that is gradually becoming valuable again.

It says in this book which seems to be written by a friend of Peter Tatchell, that the church has lost its congregation because it can no longer speak to a national character, we no longer have, a national character. Of all the appalling ideas flying about over the last few weeks, that is perhaps the worst.


  1. When I was out in public, I tended to wear a wig as this made me feel less conspicuous (and also because one of my friends called me Hilda Ogden in jest when I was wearing a head scarf). However, this was not without its moments. One day sitting on the bus, someone tapped me on the shoulder, 'Excuse me, there's a ladybird in your hair'. I thanked her gave my wig a ruffle. 'Excuse me, it's still there'. I give it another ruffle. People start looking round at me. I feel like pulling the damn wig off and giving it a dramatic shake but I haven't got the balls. 'Excuse me, it's still there'. I turn round, 'Look, I'm wearing a wig and the ladybird is probably stuck on the fibres so there's not a lot I can do about it at the moment okay?' Embarrassment all round. When I get to the station I check myself in the toilet mirror. Thanks to all the ruffling, my wig is now pointedly skew-whiff. I look more than a little crazy.

  2. I wonder if it was ever there? That persistent woman might have been mad.
    I had my photo taken today in a cafe in Kensington, without the wig. My friend is a professional photographer and I really wanted the photos, but I had to take a deep breath to do it. She said, Jane, are we ever going to see these people again? Which is I suppose one way of looking at it. Some days I am brave, some days I am not.

  3. Italian men are rude to me on an almost weekly basis, but I put it down to the fact that I am a) over 35 and b) neither blonde, leggy or likely to shag them at the drop of hat. I sometimes wonder if they have a genetic ability to sense your fluids drying up.

  4. Also, I meant to ask you if you'd seen these? A friend who was having chemo a few years back used them and highly recc'd them.

  5. I hardly read any other blogs, but I am enjoying this one, Jane! What a sense of humour you have. And, of course,the seriouness comes through along side of it. I realize: what is a life that is not shared? 8 times zones a way, I am living a bit of your life. I don't know if Anglicans agree, but where there is love there need be no distances at all. Thank you so much. Surely this is what words are for!

  6. Dear Treacle,
    I didn't know that about Italian men!
    I did notice a difference between the level of pestering I got when I was 18 and 35, but I didn't know they were so unpleasant face to face.
    Don't they love their mothers, aren't they middle aged?